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Tiger in the Garden, Elephant at the Gate: Three Zoonimal Narratives



Although zoos are popular with the general public, zoo animals rarely appear in literature as active individualized agents who assert their existence beyond serving as metaphor. Three narratives set in Asia focus on the "zoonimal" in an attempt to show it accruing cultural significance particular to itself. The stories invest various zoonimals with biographies; two of them integrate the animal as a bearer of its own meaning in human history, while the third posits a range of intimate human-animal relationships to de-center that history. Phillip Jeyaretnam's short story "Painting the Tiger" (2014), Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi (2001), and Wu Ming-yi's The Stolen Bicycle (Dānchē shīqie ji單車失竊記2015) all foreground Asian zoonimals and challenge John Berger's contention that zoos present only the marginalization of animals in modern society. Wu's novel is particularly successful in establishing parity between animals and humans through mutual acknowledgement of each other's suffering. It also presents a new paradigm of a regional narrative fully inclusive of the region's biota that is both a necessary component of the plot as well as a significant contributor to a sense of cultural identity related to place.

Parallel abstracts



Armstrong, Philip. What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity. Routledge, 2007.
Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Dutton, 1979.
Bender, Daniel. The Animal Game. Harvard UP, 2016.
Berger, John. “Why Look at Animals?” About Looking (1977). Reprint. Vintage Books, 1980, pp. 3-28.
Chua, Kevin. “The Tiger and the Theodolite: George Coleman’s Dream of Extinction.” Forum on Contemporary Art & Society, vol. 6, 2007, pp. 124-49.